Driven by our commitments to deliver solutions to increase financial literacy and access to education, PwC and the SunTrust Foundation recently convened a conversation and roundtable with educators, nonprofits and businesses in Atlanta to discuss new opportunities that exist for businesses to build upon their work to bring financial education, coaching, and well-being to students and adults. Because we believe the next frontier of financial education lies with us–the business community.
When you think about financial well-being, you might ask yourself, ”What does this have to do with business?” Personal finance is, well, personal. We don’t see it that way. Making informed decisions about personal finances is a building block for long-term success in today’s society. A child’s ability to be thoughtful about their money from a young age sets the groundwork for their future – to plan their college and career, to contribute positively to their local economies, give back, and prosper in the ways they want to, without the burden of debts they may have difficulty paying back. Debts which may prevent them from fulfilling their dreams. Through countless conversations we’ve had with individuals from all walks of life, we know the negative impact poor financial choices can have on one’s daily life.
So, yes, this is a business issue because many studies have demonstrated that financial education is critical to our economic vitality–meaning we have the responsibility to make it our issue. Not to mention, we know that financial education works. According to a FINRA Investor Education Foundation-funded study on the effectiveness of state-mandated financial education in three states, if a rigorous financial education program is implemented, it can improve credit scores and lower the probability of credit delinquency for young adults. This is just one example; but there are many that demonstrate that this issue can be remedied if we continue to help solve the problem. Both PwC and the SunTrust Foundation have a number of first-hand examples to demonstrate the impact just one financial education lesson can have in altering an individual’s understanding of critical concepts, even from a young age. Every step we take counts.
Still, the needle–nationally speaking–hasn’t moved. In fact, according to the Council for Economic Education, the number of states that require high school students to take a single course in economics has decreased from 22 to 20 over the past two years. Additionally, the number of states that require high school students to take a course in personal finance is 17, which is the same number it was in 2014.
We’re not blind to the reasons why, and we’d be remiss not to mention them. Real barriers that we and many other organizations address daily exist. Resources that have been developed aren’t being scaled to the degree they need to be, and there continues to be a lack of awareness that these resources exist. Teachers are expected to teach a financial curriculum, but not enough have had training on how to do so. Messages of saving and investing are being delivered in some classrooms, but aren’t being reinforced outside of school. Education that does exist isn’t being tailored to diverse lives, backgrounds and circumstances to the extent it needs to be.
Still, these barriers cannot prevent progress. They are not a reason to give up; they are a reason to forge ahead. They are the reasons we must continue to talk about and highlight the pockets of success that many have had. That is why we need to push towards that next frontier of financial education and that is why PwC and the SunTrust Foundation collaborated–business to business–to open a dialogue between organizations as committed to this issue as we are, and to help them begin thinking about ways they can connect dots in new and innovative ways.
But if employers are the next frontier, what should they be doing? Here are three ways they can get started:
Team up We both believe that much of the success our businesses have had in helping impart lessons of financial literacy to students, educators and parents is due to our collaborations with other organizations who bring a piece of the puzzle we don’t have, and who have helped us reach audiences in need of the information, tools, technology and resources we have to share. Additionally, by working with others, we are able to leave our silos and open our ears and eyes to insights we may not have had previously, including what’s working and what isn’t.
Share resources The role of business is imperative in this next frontier of financial education because we have the resources to tackle the barriers that exist. Those resources come in the form of employees able to donate their time and knowledge in the classroom, dollars, access to technology and the foresight to understand the skills our industries will need five, 10, even 20 years from now. If you are working and have spent time thinking about the skills your team doesn’t have, the training they need, or the experience necessary to achieve your goals, you have an opportunity, and the responsibility, to do what you can to prevent the next generation from needing to think about the same thing.
Help your employees over their hurdles Businesses can contribute to the financial well-being of their employees. Whether through benefits that help address student loans or tools that help employees set and achieve financial goals, businesses have opportunities to walk the talk and contribute solutions to this national crisis, and to make a difference and demonstrate authenticity of your intent.
We need to change the model. We can’t just mandate, we need to demonstrate and we need to create opportunities to talk about our successes so we sustain a movement of positive reinforcement.
We hope the conversations we enabled at our roundtable discussion were just the beginning of new relationships with organizations who are seeing tremendous success in their work for financial education, but that haven’t yet considered what else could be possible if they work together. As one attendee stated, “Small victories turn into next steps and eventually more.” The next frontier of financial education is upon us. Let’s all hold each other accountable.
Shannon Schuyler is Principal and Chief Purpose Officer and Corporate Responsibility Leader at PwC. David Fuller is President of the SunTrust Foundation.